How State of Escape is breaking the bias in the fashion industry

Image of models with bags from State of Escape

Source: State of Escape

When #WomenCreate, they empower other women. And when they come together to do so, they build a vital narrative that breeds support, success, passion and creativity.

For international fashion brand State of Escape, investing in opportunities for and the success of women is paramount, and not dissimilar from their own story – defined by the strength in partnership and the encouragement of passion and creativity.

Co-founders Brigitte MacGowan and Desley Maidment started the brand nine years ago at crossroads in their careers and with changing family circumstances, embarking on a journey sparked by their love of fashion and travel.

Chief Creative Director Brigitte and CEO Desley understood their skill sets differed but were complementary to running a fashion brand. Brigitte’s background in fashion and design and Desley’s experience in business coalesced into what is now a thriving fashion brand with stockists across the globe, from Australia and New Zealand to Japan, China, the UK, and Europe.

Foundational to their success is the true partnership they’ve formed, which drives the State of Escape culture; one of support and empowerment.

The power of womentorship

The fashion industry is proportionately one of the highest employers of women. In Australia, women make up 77 percent of the fashion and textile workforce.

Yet while the employment opportunities may be great, that doesn’t translate to women in leadership positions – a trend that State of Escape is working to address.

For Brigitte and Desley, it’s about more than fashion. They want to share and support others who are part of the industry, providing the growth opportunities for women to upskill across technology, finance and managing resources, and other facets of business success to help empower them to continue to grow and carve their careers in the industry.

The pair are an example of the power of womentorship. Not only have they drawn on the knowledge and support of other women throughout their careers, but they themselves act as each other’s mentors and have done since the brand’s inception.

“When we were first starting out, trying to find a maker to manufacture our bags, we were repeatedly rejected because the non-traditional materials we were working with and the methods I used to create the bags at home on my dining table didn’t easily translate to commercial machines,” Brigitte recalls.

“I remember sitting on Desley’s back steps and her asking what I wanted to do, if we still wanted to do this and her encouraging me to keep trying to find a solution that would work.

“It’s so good to have that support as you go through your career because I might not have been so tenacious in trying to find something somewhere to go with.”

Outside of their partnership, both Desley and Brigitte attribute much of their success to the network of influential women they’ve surround themselves with, from former bosses and colleagues to others in the industry who have supported and guided them along their journey.

“We really wanted to make sure we worked with people who we enjoy working with, and also be able to share our knowledge from our own journey, but also getting it back because there is still so much we have to learn,” Desley says.

“I’m so inspired by the other women in my life,” Brigitte says.

“And I feel like so much of what I've created now has been a result of the mentorship that I've received along the way from all of those women.”

“You've got to be able to continue to pay that forward because that's how we continue to move forward is with those support networks. We want to be able to be a part of those next generation support networks as well, in whatever way it can be,” Desley adds.

Supporting women in leadership

The pair say the best advice they have for women starting their own businesses or looking to progress in their careers is to develop keen intuition and ‘trust their gut’, but equally listen to the advice of trusted mentors to problem solve or simply bounce ideas off.

“You get so much external noise, particularly as you’re starting out in your business, but that ability to trust your gut and say no to things is so important,” Brigitte says.

That being said, Brigitte and Desley assert listening to trusted mentors has been essential throughout their journey.

“Particularly as you grow a business and you continue to learn in your role as a founder and leader, you still need that ability to listen to external advice,” Desley says.

“Whether it’s advice or support, those networks are so important to your success. Sometimes it takes those support networks to kind of pick you back up off the ground and say, you're going to do it, it's going to be okay.”

Creative skills like problem-solving and critical thinking are now more important than ever.

“My first boss at an advertising agency once told me ‘Don’t come to me with a problem, only come to me with a solution,’ and that really stuck with me. It’s one of those cliché things but it’s so important to have that ability to problem solve for yourself,” Brigitte says.

“Taking that initiative upfront, but then leaning into people when you actually need their support is a big part of successful leadership.”

Access to technology and skills for women in fashion

State of Escape is putting their money where their mouth is to provide greater opportunities for students entering the fashion industry.

They’ve partnered with Torrens University to provide underrepresented students studying fashion with access to technology through a donation of 100 Creative Cloud licenses.

“We’re so passionate about providing greater opportunities to everyone in the fashion and design industry, and that starts with access to tools and skills that are so fundamental to their development,” Desley says.

Technology is already breaking down barriers.

“If you think about the access to talent, now businesses aren’t restricted to physical boundaries; your team doesn’t need to live within 25 kilometres of head office, you could have talent all over the world,” Desley says.

Brigitte concludes: “We'd had so much mentorship from other women in our careers, and they've been such a big part of our life.

“Having set up this business together with Desley, we’re so lucky to have each other. I was so incredibly fortunate to have Desley with her business skills, and she was lucky to have me.

“And this idea of continually learning and never sitting still is true. There is still so much opportunity to be gained by working with other women and we’re excited for the next chapter.”

Womentorship is all about encouraging women to reach out to and support other women by sharing knowledge and advice. Spread the message of Womentorship and celebrate all that #WomenCreate by reaching out and tagging your own mentee.